Rosie Herrera Dance Theater’s Dining Alone project has been actively in formation for about a year. Early on in the creative process, Herrera held a performance of the work in progress for a small group of locals in the Miami dance community. In my review of that sneak-peek performance, I noted that her humor seemed to be softening into something quite sincere.
Dining Alone: Act 2 is the iteration of this work that debuted in Miami on March 2, as part of this year’s Miami Made Festival. As the addendum to the title would indicate, Hererra has significantly refined and extended the project. The performance we saw this past weekend at the Arsht Center was mature and polished.
The binding theme of Dining Alone: Act 2 was food — and the emotional ties we build around our rituals of eating. The stage was first set with an exaggerated long table with a formally dressed and very lonely looking Octavio Campos at the head of the table. The audience was invited to sit at the table with Campos as the show began. But he never looked up. Then a big industrial fan was rolled in, blowing away the tablecloth and the plastic wine glasses, and everyone at the table was ushered out of their chairs. The whole opening set was quickly dismantled, leaving Campos alone on stage.
Herrera’s choreography variously approached the absurdity and frailty of romantic relationships. Her characters passed through cultural stereotypes, from the Disney ideal that “one day my Prince will come” to the classic romance of an early Hollywood film. Performers lip-synched to satirize sound bytes — in one scene, three women sat at a table face-down in cream pies, popping up in turn to mouth dialogue from a cartoon about love. At one point, a very young gentleman, maybe 10 years old, came on stage in a fine tuxedo. He was escorted by a drag queen.
And in a back corner of the black box stage, a character played by Herrera “changed the channel” on the show while she cried into her bucket of ice cream. The staging as a whole was immersive and playful, and we could never be sure whether there was any line between dancers and audience. We certainly didn’t escape being roped into the drama.
In the show’s most theatrical moments, love was the subject of ridicule. But caricatures gave way to more vast and indefinite spaces delivered in abstract movement. We saw the aspects of isolation and relationship that are most frightening, that we cloak with humor. Emotional fragility was manifested most overtly onstage by a motif of porcelain plates. They were spun, rolled, or placed carefully, always in danger of breaking. In the most poignant moment of the night, dancer Heather Maloney walked out on a path of plates, step by step, to offer a touching solo. At the center of a dark stage, she conveyed the grief and bliss of loneliness. Lydia Bittner-Baird’s rendition of emotional collapse made an equal impact. As she fell, she was both dragged and supported by other dancers. Shadows of German choreographer Pina Bausch were especially visible here.
The maturity of Dining Alone: Act 2 comes through its balance between humor and humanity — Herrera allowed her caricatures to dissolve. Ridicule on its own leaves the audience no room for transformation. I remember leaving Herrera’s Pity Partyfeeling as though I had been subjected to a cruel joke. But when we experience whatever is hidden underneath the humor, we see ourselves, however imperfect, reflected.
Photo credit: Justin Namon